I eat some pretty weird things. The more sour, spicy or stinky, the better.
Pickled things in jars are beautiful. Bubbly Kimchi makes me so happy. I could easily spend my rent on stinky cabbage. I probably have. So if basic raw sauerkraut is just cabbage, salt and time, I wondered why I shouldn’t try making it myself. I’ve been doing this regularly for a few months, and it’s been delicious and great. Each batch turns out differently, which leads me to tweak the method and improve.
Another favorite fermented food of mine that doesn’t involve vegetables is sourdough bread. A few months ago, I took the steps to make my own. Here’s what happened.
While searching for homemade sourdough recipes, I realized every one calls for a sourdough starter. A sourdough starter is a mixture of flour and clean water that has been allowed to ferment over time. The mixture gathers good bacteria from the air and becomes a bubbly, goopy, sour concoction that provides the base flavor for baked sourdough goods. Making a sourdough starter from scratch would be easy in theory. After reading this article and how-to however, I felt like I would be training a puppy instead of mixing dough.
Some bakers buy their starters online. Some own passed-down starters from their great-grandmothers. Some throw their hands up and say, “To hell with it – I’m going to run to the nearest Panera Bread and buy a loaf for $3.99!”
Making my own starter worked like the Internet assured me it would. Each day, I fed it water and flour. It grew, and I loved it. Like, if my apartment were on fire, I would have grabbed it after shoving the cats into their carrier.
My starter lived in a Christmas cookie jar, and it was perfect.
People, it grew. I’m telling you, it was alive. One morning, I woke up and found it exploded all over the counter. The lid must be kept slightly open so the good bacteria living in the air can get in. I’ve read that many people discard the extra starter that gets too big for its container. Smarter people make delicious things with it. I made biscuits and sourdough crackers with garlic and fresh herbs from my garden. I found most of my recipes on King Arthur Flour’s website.
After a week, my starter was strong.
I’ve baked a few loaves of bread and many pizza crusts in my kitchen. Some successful, most not. It is tough. There are factors other than skill involved: The weather, the place you live, the quality of ingredients, your state of zen. The measuring, mixing and kneading can all go as planned. You can set a timer and punch the dough until you’re blue in the face and your arms hurt like you’ve spent an hour in boxing class. But when it comes time to let it sit and rise, it’s all up in the air.